PUD 2017 budget results reviewed

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EPHRATA — The books aren’t closed on 2017, but preliminary results show the Grant County PUD spent about 25 percent less than it had budgeted for capital projects last year. The preliminary review was part of a report on the budget at the PUD commission meeting Feb. 13.

Analyst Baxter Gillette said there are three areas where managers “tend to focus on the most, variables that are in the budget. Those are direct capital (expenditures), labor (costs) and direct O&M (operations and maintenance).”

Actual capital expenses in 2017 were $137.1 million, about 27 percent below the budget projections for 2017. Gillette said most of that was due to projects scheduled for last year that didn’t get completed, or didn’t get started. “We had kind of a systematic where our eyes were bigger than our stomachs.”

Currently the PUD is working on a two-decade project to upgrade turbines and generators at Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams. The project is in its second turbine-generator unit at Priest Rapids, and that “was a little behind schedule.” In addition, “we were a little behind on same dam safety that we wanted to get done,” and a project to add some power lines as a backup was delayed, among other projects.

For 2018, capital expenses are about $109 million. “It’s substantially lower.” The goal is to “figure out exactly what we’re going to do and what the high-priority work is, and then let’s actually get it done.”

Labor costs for 2017 were $67.6 million, about 1 percent over the budget target of $66.5 million. “There were some events during the year that were contributing those cost overruns.” Those extra costs mostly came from employee overtime, Gillette said.

Operations and maintenance costs were $48.9 million in 2017, about $500,000 more than budgeted. Gillette said a lot of those costs were driven by repairs at a spillgate apron. It was a big project, “kind of looked and smelled like a capital project,” but was classified as an O&M project. Assistant general manager Kevin Marshall said the work came to a temporary halt when PUD officials discovered a hinge on the spill gates needed repair. The apron repairs were all underwater, and "we had to pull the contractor out of the water” while the hinge was repaired, Marshall explained.

The PUD did recover some money through its conservation program, Gillette commented.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.

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